How to Host an Engaging Webinar

What I learned about giving high Net Promoter Score online webinars over the last year, with accelerated learning in the last four weeks.

Like many, I have moved very quickly from in-person to online events. The challenge is to create engaging experiences when you can’t see your audience, they are distracted (by email, Twitter, and COVID19), and the online tools are both flaky and hard to use.

Below are my learnings from this transition. I describe the tools I use today, how I make them work together and the principles that are common to both in-person and online presentations.

My Webinar Tools

I have been hacking with several tools and have had good luck with the following combination:

  • Google Slides: These are “live” and require an internet connection.
  • Slido: Enable real-time polling, word clouds, free text, and surveys. It’s the most effective online engagement tool I have found.
  • Zoom: My go-to video tool. I have an upgraded subscription that enables more than 100 participants. I also record sessions for later viewing, although the recordings do not allow real-time engagement via Slido.

I am a feedback freak. I rely on Net Promoter Score as a proxy metric to measure presentation quality. By using this combination of tools, I have achieved Net Promoter Scores in the 80’s. That’s the same score I get for my best in-person presentations.

Rather than try to describe the approach, take a minute to watch a recording of my “Hacking Your Product Leader Career” webinar. My co-host is Mike Belsito from “Product Collective” and there are 350 participants online. The NPS was in the 80’s but dropped into the 70’s as more folks watched the recorded version. Think of this drop in NPS as a pre/post-test that validates the importance of real-time Slido engagement to provide a better audience experience.

Here’s the video:

And here are the detailed Net Promoter Score results, including qualitative:

Google Slides

A few notes, so you don’t make ALL the same mistakes I made:

I use Keynote on Mac to build my presentations, and it’s tough to convert Keynote slides to Google Slides. Here’s what I do:

  1. I remove all slide transitions from my Keynote presentation. (Transitions break in the conversion process.)
  2. I divide my presentation into ten slide files, then apply the following steps.
  3. I save the file as Keynote 09. I have no idea why this is helpful, but it is.
  4. I convert the file to PowerPoint on Mac.
  5. I upload the PowerPoint file to Google Drive.
  6. I open the Powerpoint file online using Google Slides.
  7. I save the PowerPoint file within Google Slides as a Google Slide deck.
  8. I do lots of clean up, focused on two things: Fix text builds (they often get screwed up) and add slide transitions. Check your slides carefully as there will be lots of minor issues.

Some obvious questions, given the above:

Q: Why don’t you convert the entire presentation all at once? A: There’s a limit to the size of the PowerPoint file you can convert into Google Slides. My guess is this limit is around 30 Mb. My presentations are huge, with lots of full-screen photos in the background.

Q: Why do you work in Keynote? A: It’s the tool I know best, and I have about two dozen presentations I draw from to build new talks. Over time, I will create original presentations within Google Slides, but I’m not there yet.

Q: Why do you need Google Slides? A: I can’t do real-time polling using Slido without Google Slides. You need to be in the cloud.

Q: Does Slido pay you? A: Nope. I started hacking with their tools a few years ago, and they worked. The team helps me when I hit roadblocks. (I seek more friends from Google Slides and Zoom, too!)

Slido integration

You’ll need an account, and I encourage you to start hacking with the tools — you will figure them out. My focus here is on what types of content/engagement tactics to use. Here is what I have learned:

  • Start with an easy “Yes” v. “No” question upfront to ensure the audience is set up to use Slido and knows how to use it. Another warm-up question, “Where are you joining us from, today?”
  • Ask questions that you are curious about to enable you to get to know the audience. Your audience will be interested in the answers, too, as they can’t see each other either. Examples: “Do you work in consumer or enterprise software?” What’s your current job satisfaction?” “What could be better about your job?” But if the answers are not interesting to you, don’t ask the question.
  • There are many different Slido engagement tools. Experiment with all of them. I find word clouds to be a fast way to solicit ideas from the audience, and the audience finds the results interesting — they love to see their contributions instantly reflected in the presentation. The audience is now part of the performance — the height of engagement. And engagement is the key to driving high NPS scores.

Zoom Webinars

Most folks have lots of experience with Zoom meetings. Webinars are a different animal, however, and the challenge is that to get good at them, you need practice. But it’s hard to spin up a hundred people to test drive a new webinar. Worse, almost all of Zoom’s focus is on meetings, so the webinar experience is still clunky. Pro tip: Do not schedule a meeting — it has a 100-person limit. To go beyond 100 people, you need to schedule a webinar, which is a hard to find feature. (This was my first of many mistakes.)

Some tips:

  • Find a co-host. My partners are leaders of conferences who are quickly pivoting their businesses online. They have large email lists and can help to build an audience for the event.
  • The co-host’s job is to manage the webinar: to help the audience set up, ensure the technology works, and to be your “voice of the audience.” The co-host also masks dead time — like when you are waiting for Slido results — by talking about your key points. At the end of the presentation, the co-host also reads the Slido questions to you. The point is you need a co-host so you can focus on presenting and not worry about anything else.
  • Have someone you know/trust in the audience. They monitor the viewer's experience and can text you if anything is awry — like when your home network dies.
  • The principles of great presentations still hold! Talk about your passions. Tell stories. Create a tight structure with three chapters, three main points in each section, and three bullets on each slide. Speak from the heart. Be you!

Conclusion

Good luck! I just did a 120-person “How to Host a Rockstar Webinar” event with Slido and you can watch a recording by clicking here. I also included a link to the PDF of the slides, below. The PDF includes the polling results from the audience, so you can see the interaction from the audience.

I hope this essay helps you to develop into a rockstar presenter, and, in my heart of hearts, I hope you use these tools to share your knowledge and teach the world new skills. We all need a lot of help from one another these days.

Best,

Gib

Former VP/CPO at Netflix/Chegg. Now speaker, teacher, & workshop host. Learn more here: www.gibsonbiddle.com or here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gibsonbiddle/

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